Was Jordan's First Retirement For Real?

With Michael Jordan about to retire from the game of basketball for good (we think), it's high time I took a look back at his first so-called retirement, and a consipiracy theory that has been lingering on the fringe of the basketball world for some time.

Now, first let me put a disclaimer here -- I have no proof of any of this. I cooked this up one day and started putting it together, and too much of it made sense to be completely dismissed. Over the years I fine tuned it, and eventually I want to look up the dates of some of the specific events to see how they match.

Let's start at the beginning -- shortly after the Chicago Bulls won their third consecutive title by beating the Phoenix Suns in six games. Jordan was on top of the basketball world, but something was brewing that was destined to knock him down -- gambling problems.

Jordan was a big-time gambler, and everyone around the league knew this, but the public wasn't really aware of it. However, one of Jordan's gambling buddies -- one who claimed he was owed millions of dollars for golfing bets -- was ready to go public, and the league wasn't happy about it. David Stern knew Jordan had been near the edge of the rules and an investigation would probably have unveiled some actual violations.

No one in the NBA wanted that, because even an investigation that came up with nothing would have sullied Jordan's image -- not to mention the fact that such an investigation would have been seen by the media as a farce set up to protect Jordan.

So, rather than an investigation done publicly, and a possible suspension, the NBA approached Jordan and the Bulls with the idea of a "retirement" -- actually a one-year suspension without any of the public knowing it was a suspension. After one season, Jordan would announce that he was ready to play again, and would come back.

The plan worked at first, but a problem arose. Jordan was bored. So, in the spring, he asked Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf if he could play baseball for the season. Reinsdorf went along, figuring Jordan would give up baseball after not making the Sox roster in spring traing. However, Jordan fell in love with baseball again -- as he had when he was a kid -- and decided that he was really going to pursue it, even if it meant giving up basketball for good. And besides, the Bulls were doing well, and were on track for their fourth consecutive NBA title.

By the end of spring training, Jordan was willingly going to the minor leagues, and the Bulls were in the playoffs, on a roll even without Jordan. When the Bulls went up 2-1 on the Knicks in the conference semis, Reinsdorf called in the league to actually help the Bulls lose, so he could go back to Jordan and tell him how much he needed him. The league complied, had Hugh Hollins call the non-foul on Scottie Pippen to make sure the Knicks won that game, and then the series, and the Bulls were gone.

Jordan was unmoved. He wanted to play baseball, and play baseball he did. He even went to the Arizona Fall League and played well there, and by this point, he thought he had a shot at the bigs. There was one problem -- at this point, there were no bigs. The MLB players were on strike, and there was a complete stalemate with the owners, who were led by -- and here's where the whole "conspiracy" part of this starts to come together -- Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

During the winter, Reinsdorf promises Jordan he won't ask the former NBA star to be a replacement player, even assuring him that the strike will be over before then. However, behind the scenes, Reinsdorf makes sure the strike drags on, and then even breaks his promise to Jordan, asking him to cross the picket line.

That's the final straw for Jordan, who had been playing basketball casually to keep in shape. Jordan knows crossing the picket line, no matter how well he played, would damage his image more than a suspension would have. He approaches Reinsdorf and says he won't play as a scab, but would Reinsdorf consider letting him rejoin the Bulls, because he needs to stay competitive in something, and the one-year period has long since passed.

Shortly after Jordan rejoins the Bulls, Reinsdorf ends the strike stalemate, signs Albert Belle to a huge contract, and eventually the Bulls win three more titles.

Did this all play out like this, or was it just a grand series of coincidences? Who knows? If it did play out this way, then it's in fact possible that the only people who were ever clued in were Jordan, Reinsdorf, Stern and maybe David Falk (he is that powerful), and if they know, they're not saying anything. What do you think of this? Drop me a line and let me know.